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Since the dawning of the new millennium, after Tinariwen grabbed the attention of the international world music cognoscenti, the Tuareg version of 'desert blues' has been on the rise. Due to the placement of Tinariwen and various spin-off groups, most associate the style with Malian music; but as the Tuareg, or Kel Tamasheq to use their own self-designation, are a stateless, nomadic people whose domain stretches across the borders of many North African lands, it is more fitting to think of them as beings of the Sahara, and their music and culture is intricately linked with its solitary sands.
Throughout this vast region, the man born Goumar Almoctar, known to his friends as Omara Moctar and to fans as Bombino, has gained a steady following on the music scene since the late 1990s. But even if our knowledge of him reaches us belatedly, the album Agadez is ample proof of his talent. This quietly mesmerising collection holds hidden power beneath its deceptive simplicity, with many a tune devolving into blistering guitar jams, following chanted vocals about the struggle for unity and self-determination, as well as the longing that love brings, and the difficulties facing a life of shepherd's solitude.
Bombino started his life in Niger, growing between the densely populated northern town of Agadez and a desert camp near Tidene. During the first Tamasheq rebellion in 1990, he and his family fled to Algeria; later, while on a return visit to Niger, he was given a guitar by his uncle, and was soon in a band with leading revolutionary musician, Haja Bebe. He later had a cameo in a feature film and after cutting a debut album, funded by a Spanish film crew, and found his way to California to appear on the second Rolling Stones Project album. But then the second rebellion happened, forcing Bombino into exile in Burkina Faso for a couple of years, until the deposing of Niger's dreaded dictator brought the ceasefire that allowed Bombino to re-direct his music towards the cause of unity, and the engagement of the Tuareg in democratic processes.
And all of this is bubbling under the surface of Agadez, which was cut between Massachusetts and Niger, while his superb performance at WOMAD 2011 also showed him to be a fine performer capable of channelling a range of emotions through his axe.